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So thorough was the Ravens’ undressing of the L.A. Rams on Monday Night Football that even this small-minded, late-night newsletter scribe gazed into his small, grainy, starter-kit crystal ball and saw what was coming. Perhaps a quick start for Baltimore offset by a sluggish Jared Goff trying to find his footing against a criminally underrated Ravens defense. A sizeable first-half lead for the Ravens that proved too much to overcome, and ultimately another win for the men in purple against a stunned, overmatched opponent that never got its legs back after the first punch. It’s often overly simplistic, but every NFL game has a “script,” a basic blueprint prognosticators believe the game will follow. Sometimes, the game goes mostly as anticipated, and sometimes the Raiders lose 34-3 to the Jets.
But, they give the crummy crystal balls to interns for a reason. I certainly did not expect Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to play perfectly for three quarters on both sides of the ball, take a 28-6 lead into the half and stomp every last ounce of spirit out of the Rams during a 45-6 domination that, despite the totality of the win, will simply go down as another chapter in the incredible story of Jackson’s record-breaking sophomore year.
Where else to begin but with the man himself? With Michael Vick appearing briefly on the sidelines pregame, the closest thing since completed 15-of-20 passes for 169 yards, five touchdowns and a 139.4 rating to pair with 95 rushing yards in just three quarters. Pick any stat and you’ll be impressed, but the first half for Baltimore was truly special: 173 rushing yards, 78 passing yards, 3-for-4 on third down, 4-for-4 in the red zone and 18 first downs with only three-and-change more minutes of possession than the Rams.
Mark Ingram (15 carries, 111 yards) deserves mention as the unheralded linchpin of the ground-based Baltimore attack, with his anvil-esque, between-the-tackles running setting the table for Jackson to exploit on the edge. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman fed Ingram early, often and constantly once it became abundantly clear Los Angeles, one of the best run defenses in the NFL entering this game, either could not stop Ingram or had no interest in stepping in front of the 5'9", 215-pound Alabama product. Once Roman realized the ground game would not be stopped, the rest was a mere formality. On the outside, Hollywood Brown and Willie Snead snagged two touchdowns apiece on another quietly effective night for the Ravens' receiving corps.
But Baltimore is a great football team, and that is because of a ferocious, physical defense that lacks in star power but more than compensates with a scheme, coordinators and players built to win. Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr represent one of the strongest, if not the strongest, cornerback rooms in the league—and having Earl Thomas in centerfield doesn’t hurt. They blanketed Rams receivers all night, allocating plenty of time for Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser to wreak havoc on a depleted Rams O-line. Wink Martindale whipped up another masterful defensive game plan, forcing the screen/slat/outside run-happy Rams back into the teeth of the defense by setting a solid edge all night. The tenacity of Baltimore’s defense was the perfect complement for its explosive offense, and the Rams were overwhelmed from the jump on both sides of the ball.
Even when leading by 39 points with under two minutes to go, Smith picked off a driving Goff—because these Ravens just don’t let up. Rams safety Eric Weddle said earlier in the week he wouldn’t spill the beans on his old team’s defensive tendencies, but quite honestly, it would not have mattered at all.
Way down on the other end of the spectrum, last year’s Rams team was a passive participant in the coronation of its replacements. It was another tough outing for Goff, who went 26-of-37 for 212 yards, two interceptions and a 62.0 rating. Nothing worked offensively; it quickly became clear Todd Gurley would be their best hope, but he carried the rock just six times for 22 yards. Robert Woods led the way with six receptions for 97 yards, but the returning Brandin Cooks was as ineffective (two catches, 32 yards) as the rest of L.A.’s pass-catchers.
On defense, Jackson simply forced the Rams to quit. Aaron Donald was double-teamed and ineffective all night against the ground-based attack of the Ravens, and lead ‘backer Dante Fowler made just four tackles. The secondary kept the lid on Baltimore’s receivers, but again, it didn’t really matter. For a unit that held opponents to 20 points or fewer each of the last five games, the 28-spot on the halftime scoreboard clearly deflated the Rams D to the point where little resistance was offered on the two third-quarter touchdown drives that followed the intermission. It’s rare to see NFLers, particularly those on a winning team, quit, but the Rams' defense did just that in the third frame.
Several teams face a daunting offseason in 2020, and Los Angeles is one of them. Following the worst loss in team history at the L.A. Coliseum, the Rams sit at 6-5, a distant observer in the NFC wild-card race. As we’ve seen time and time again, L.A. burst onto the scene with a new offense, new(ish) quarterback and a head coach many were quick to dub the NFL’s newest savant. But the league took an offseason to adjust, the Rams didn’t, and now they’re stuck in a mini-purgatory. The priority should be finding ways to milk more production out of Goff, who pumped out his usual handful of nice throws to go with several misses of open receivers, endless play-changing and confusion at the line of scrimmage. They need to figure out what plagues Gurley, as the star running back has been a shell of himself despite insistence from McVay that nothing is amiss. And with considerable money tied to Jalen Ramsey and Donald, as well as no first-round picks in the foreseeable future, Los Angeles’ ownership needs to fill the roster gaps in a way that makes depthless of a glaring concern week in and week out.
But don’t let the depressing state of affairs in Southern California detract from another historic, remarkable night for Jackson. If you were playing some twisted drinking game emanating from how many times Booger McFarland likened Jackson to Michael Vick during the broadcast, you’d be on your way to the hospital by now. Comparisons aside, Jackson is winning his own way, burying opponents early with—and I can’t believe I’m putting these words next to each other—a high-octane ground attack that is in perfect stylistic harmony thanks to complementary Jackson and Ingram. Speedy, consistent receivers are quick enough to punish cheating corners on the outside, and the defense continues to outhustle, outwork and demoralize opposing offenses as they watch Jackson race up and down the field from the bench.
Most importantly, Jackson is winning with a team and scheme constructed for him by a coaching staff intelligent enough to recognize the immeasurable talent in the legs, arm and brain of their young franchise quarterback. Even if you’re a fan of a different squad, perhaps a certain AFC franchise accustomed to stockpiling rings with little resistance living in terror of what Jackson and the Ravens might accomplish in the coming decade, you can’t help but step back and appreciate what we get to watch each time Jackson takes the field.
But for tonight, even the shoddiest of crystal balls saw this coming. Still, who knew it would be such a complete masterclass.
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MUST-READS AT SI.COM: Albert Breer and the Monday Afternoon Quarterback taking a look at Lamar Jackson’s accuracy, Frank Gore, Andy Dalton and more … Connor Orr on Jason Garrett sowing the seeds of his own demise … Gary Gramling’s Week 12 takeaways ... Mr. Breer’s case for Michael Thomas in the MVP conversation.
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THE BEST OF AROUND THE INTERNET: Mr. Orr on the Raiders’ trap-game turd against the Jets … why FOX should let Gronk be Gronk … ICYMI, Vita Vea had a historic catch on Sunday … a fresh set of NBA Power Rankings … Pat Forde welcomes you to college football rivalry week … Jamie Lisanti on the story of Orlando Pride defender Toni Pressley and her battle with cancer.
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ONE FUN THING: 25-and-under crowd, Bop on Broadway is here!
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